Tag Archives: Twitter

Mapping My Twitter Followers – No Code Needed

The Challenge

I’ve been pondering what new data sets to add to the GeoSandbox for a while now. It’s been a couple of weeks since the last addition, and I felt things were getting a little stale. Once again, a single tweet set my mind in motion. This time it was @briantimoney who said “2011 is the year tweet maps replace coffeeshop-finding as the go-to demo scenario in geo.” An RT by @billdollins cemented the statement in my head, and there was no going back after that. Obviously if the GeoSandbox is to remain the cutting-edge tool that it is, I’d have to move quickly.

The Process

All I wanted to do was to make a push-pin style map of the people who follow me on Twitter. Simple as that. I did not want to get into learning APIs and writing any kind of code, and I didn’t want to get into auto-updating, or anything like that. KISS. A little searching led to the following workflow:

MyTweeple – Export to CSV – Import to Fusion Table – Visualize on map –
Export to KML – Convert to shapefile – Put it into GeoServer.

More extensive searching might reveal a more efficient process, but this is what I came up with. From the time I first read the tweet to the point the data was in the GeoSandbox took about one hour.

My Tweeple to CSV

Once I signed into the MyTweeple site, I chose the Tools tab, and then the Export All (csv) option. This allowed me to save a csv spreadsheet containing up to 5,000 of my followers (I only have ~560). There are a lot of extraneous columns that can be done away with. All I really wanted was the name and address columns. Some sorting and editing of the address column can help out, too. Not everyone includes an address in their bio, and some have addresses that obviously won’t geocode properly. These were deleted.


Fusion Table to KML

I’ve heard a lot of talk on the inter-tubes lately about Google Fusion Tables, so I’ve been looking for something to give this new tool a test drive. This was my chance, and it did not disappoint. All I had to do was go to the Fusion Table page, select New Table>Import Table, and browse to the MyTweeple.csv file I saved earlier.


I double checked a few addresses, and then clicked on the Visualize>Map link. The geocode routine ran for a few minutes, and produced a map showing all of the people who follow me on Twitter. It was like magic.


Clicking the Export to KML link allowed me to save the KML file to my computer, where I then converted it to a shapefile (I used the KML to Layer tool in ArcToolbox, but I’m sure there are many other ways to do this). From there it was just a matter of adding the shapefile to my GeoServer as I’ve outlined in previous posts.

The Results


So there you have it. My somewhat convoluted way of showing my Twitter followers in the GeoSandbox.

GIS is Dead – Long Live GIS

What is the state of GIS, and where is it going?

Wow, is it even possible to answer that? It seems to be the perpetual question asked at every GIS conference, and embedded into every keynote address given at them. In an attempt to describe the state of GIS, some (many?) are using the terms Paleo and Neo in an attempt to describe past and future tenses of all things geo/gis-related. I’m still not sure these are the correct words to use ( See my blog post titled “My Latest Lesson in GIS”), but they have become a part of the GIS nomenclature, none-the-less.
The impetus to write this post came from a recent discussion on Twitter about how to advise someone just entering the GIS field. It all started innocently enough with a Twitter post by Shawn Bichsel“I’m meeting a potential #geonerd for lunch to spread the GIS gospel. What’s one piece advice you would give someone entering the GIS field” Shawn did a great job summarizing the responses to his question on his blog – Bixel Is Outside.
My response to that question was “New GISers should view GIS as a tool, not a profession. Need to know enviro, transp, engineer, planning, helath, web, etc…”. Then Justin Houk followed up with a tweet “I like your thinking don. You should do a post on your views of GIS as a profession.” And so, here it is.

GIS is a myth

I apologize for the abundance of Twitter quotes in this post, but there were so many great ideas flying around that day, it’s just easier explain my thought process by using them. Bill Dolans said in one of his most profound tweets ever: “IMO, GIS is a myth. There are info systems/apps that use spatial data and methods but GIS doesn’t exist.” This then led to a few more exchanges comparing GIS use and using computers as “text information systems”. And that’s when the light bulb lit up in my head. We are probably at a similar point in GIS evolution as word processing was 30 or 40 years ago.

GIS and Word Processing

People have been drawing maps and communicating through the written word for thousands of years. There was a time when Word Processing was as much a profession as GIS is today. Read this description of word processing from the Wikipedia article, and see if it looks familiar to you GIS folk:

[In the late 1960’s] IBM defined the term in a broad and vague way as “The combination of people, procedures, and equipment which transforms ideas into printed communications,”

Now look at the definition of GIS from the ESRI website:

A geographic information system (GIS) integrates hardware, software, and data for capturing, managing, analyzing, and displaying all forms of geographically referenced information.

Actually, if I had defined GIS that way on a test in my intro to GIS class, without mentioning that a person was needed to operate it, I would have gotten that one wrong.
Anyway, what I’m trying to say is this:

  • There were writers before word processors, and there still are, and always will be, writers.
  • There were geospatial analysts before GIS, and there still are, and always will be, geospatial analysts.
  • Word Processing is no longer a profession, but word processors are still being used as a tool in many other professions.
  • GIS is on it’s way out as a profession, but GIS will continue to be used as a tool in many other professions.

My advice to someone that wants to get into the GIS field is – don’t, because it’s not going to be around much longer. What you should do is – get into a profession you really enjoy, and learn how to apply the various GIS tools to your work.

My latest lesson in GIS

My latest lesson in GIS came from Twitter

More difficult than deciding what to write about in my first blog post, has been deciding what to write about in my second. I want to keep some sense of continuity in my writing, and briefly thought about describing my learning progress and work experience through the years. However, I also want to keep the topics here current. So, I’ve decided to skip ahead (way ahead) to where I am today.
What have I learned most recently about the use of GIS in the planning field? I have been spending an extraordinary amount of time on Twitter for the last several months. This IS a good thing. Since I finished my graduate degree, and haven’t spent any time in a classroom in over 6 years, I have become increasingly aware of my isolation as a sole proprietor in a home office. I have been fortunate that my workload has kept me very busy, even through the recent economic meltdown. But, it has also kept me from getting out and keeping up with some of the advancements in the GIS world. In the fast-paced ever-changing world of technology, that is NOT a good thing. In order to overcome my sense of isolation, and to promote my business, I decided to increase my online presence.

Enter > Twitter

There has been a lot of discussion about the pros and cons of Twitter usage in the work place, and the jury is still out (for most people, anyway) on whether the benefits yet outweigh the costs. For myself, I believe Twitter has been a net benefit.
I’d like to describe why I feel this way through an example. A few weeks ago, there was a series of posts (or tweets) about the use of the term NeoGeography to describe recent advancements in the GIS world. In an attempt to describe NeoGeography, the concept of PaleoGeography was also discussed. While these terms are not new (see the Wikipedia article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neogeography) There was a significant increase in the chatter on Twitter about the use of these terms. Some tweets were an attempt at definitions of the terms. Some were condemnations of the attempt to label GIS practitioners using particular technologies as new vs. old. Some were expressions of distaste for labels in general, and resulted in the new self applied label – GeoAgnostic.

My take on the whole discussion is this

(modified from a series of tweets on the subject):

The prefix Neo (new), is often associated with “good” while Paleo (old), with “outdated” or “bad”. While I disagree with this association, I can understand why some GIS/Geography professionals don’t want to label their work or themselves as Neo or Paleo. However, I don’t think GeoAgnostic is quite the right term, either. The word agnostic comes from the Greek word agnosis or “without knowledge”. It is usually used in a religious sense, to describe someone who feels the existence of God is impossible to prove, therefore unknowable, and therefore not worth bothering with. I don’t think any of those using the term GeoAgnostic truly feel this way about their chosen profession. My thinking is this: The Root word of agnosis is gnosis, or “knowledge”. Specifically it refers to knowledge gained through personal experience, not just taught by someone else. Again, in the religious sense, Gnostics were early Christians that believed they could grow closer to God by questioning and learning everything you could about your faith. In my view, we should all try to be GeoGnostics, praising and evangelizing the benefits of GeoGnostisism. We should encourage new Geography/GIS professionals to question and test everything, be open to new ideas, and learn as much as possible through direct experience.

What does all of this have to do with my perceived net benefit of using Twitter? Twitter makes me think. Were it not for Twitter, I never would have thought about the whole Neo vs. Paleo thing. I never would have heard the various viewpoints from GIS professionals, government agency officials, and students from a half dozen counties, and three different continents. It allowed me to post a few comments in a very informal way, and get some feedback on how others felt about those comments. I learned, not from a book, but through my own actions and experience. I became more GeoGnostic.
This is just one small example of how Twitter has helped me grow. There are hundreds more I could list. Some small and insignificant, some more substantial, but all of them, important. Twitter allows me to push the envelope with my thinking. Do I ever go too far? Absolutely, but when I do, someone always points it out in a friendly way, and I reel myself back in.

And as for the “label” thing? You can call me a

If you’d like to read up on some of the Neo vs. Paleo discussion, I suggest checking out these sites:
Peter Batty’s blog posts about NeoGeography: http://geothought.blogspot.com/search/label/neogeography
James Fee’s blog post on Neo, Geo, GIS and Innovation: www.spatiallyadjusted.com/2009/07/28/neo-geo-gis-and-innovation